On the eve of his departure from Venice for the royal court in Spain in 1762, at the age of 66, Giambattista Tiepolo told a reporter from a local newspaper, the Nuova Veneta Gazzetta: “Painters should strive to succeed in creating great works, that is those that can please noble lords and the rich — because these make the fortunes of masters — and not other people, who cannot buy pictures of great value. So the painter’s mind must always aim at the sublime, the heroic and for perfection.”
This was a rare spoken record of Tiepolo’s artistic credo, but it was one that had guided his whole life and made it possible for him to realize masterpieces on a stupendous scale.
Much earlier in his long and amazingly industrious career, he had given visual expression to his grand ambitions — and not without a disarming dash of wit and self-deprecation — in a memorable painting: In “Alexander and Campaspe in the Studio of Apelles” of 1725-27, Tiepolo cast himself as the most famous artist in antiquity in the act of painting the portrait of Alexander’s mistress, the beautiful Campaspe.
According to the story, so pleased was the world-conquering hero with the painted nude that he rewarded the artist with the gift of the model, with whom Apelles had fallen in love. In his playful illustration of the legend, Tiepolo’s young wife, Cecilia Guardi, posed as Campaspe (Apelles-Tiepolo gazing on her with mesmerized, pop-eyed concentration), while placed behind Apelles’s easel for good measure, advertising his wares, are two of Tiepolo’s own canvases, one on a classical and another on a religious theme. Thus did the artist declare his abiding intention to emulate the most famous painters of the past and to find patrons among the great.
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